The Indian Goes to LeMans

Category: The Rear View Mirror & Nostalgia
Published on Tuesday, 26 June 2012 00:01
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The Indian Goes to LeMans

(July 1986 Gazette)

Last month four Oklahoma Region Members, the England Family, were hobnobbing with RAC notables in merrie old England and I promised to take you with them to LeMans this month — so let’s go!

It’s necessary to go back a moment to March of 1966 when we were planning the England safari to Europe. We were planning our trip, keying on the Le Mans race and Margaret thought it would be neat if we could trade car badges with the Automobile Club of the West, the French sports car club, based in Le Mans, whose primary if not sole purpose is to put on the LeMans 24 Hour spectacle. Margaret somehow managed to dig up the address of that organization and wrote them a letter suggesting we get together at the race and swap badges. We really doubted if that venerable and “French” club would even take time to answer Margaret’s letter and it was with some amazement when we received a letter, written in French from LeMans. We found an interpreter and were further surprised to find them agreeable to the car badge swap we suggested. The writer, Secretary of the Automobile Club of the West, said to send a note to him after we got to the track, via track security personnel and he would get together with us. It sounded great but we really doubted if he was serious. After all, LeMans is even larger in total attendance than Indy and we knew first hand how hectic race day was for even a small event like Ponca City, nevertheless, we were eager to see if the offer was for real.

We had purchased reserved seats in the covered center grandstand at LeMans, where we could center our activities and also have a place to get out of the rain that always seems to come with the race. The seats were also almost directly across from the S/F line and we could see into the glass walled confines of Race Control Hqs. At about 10:00 a.m. of the second day (about race hour 18) we read the letter to a track Security Officer. He agreed to get our note to Race Hqs and in less than an hour we were on our way through the tunnel under the track which exited just behind the Ferrari pits. As we walked down a narrow hallway to Race Control, we bumped into Pedro Rodriguez whose Ferrari had expired a short while earlier. “Tough luck, Pedro” I said. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. We turned through a doorway and there we were, right in the nerve center of the race and only a few feet from the track where cars were whizzing by at over 150 MPH. Only a sheet of plate glass separated us from the traffic! We met the Secretary (his name I cannot remember), shook hands and with the help of our English speaking guide, made the exchange, giving him our OK Region badge and taking his in return. It seemed almost like a dream with the dramatic setting, the noise and excitement etc.

I said earlier that LeMans was the key event of our three week journey to Europe and this meeting to exchange badges was the high point of the race for us although it was followed closely by the victory of the Fords, who won for the U. S. for the very first time. Believe me, we were proud to be Americans and Okies that day in June 20 years ago! As I’ve frequently said, there is a common bond between sports car people that transcends national boundaries and language barriers. Our trip to LeMans confirmed that again.